Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Help Save our Food Trucks!

My support for Columbia's food truck scene is well-documented.  I think that the 5 trucks we have - Bone-In BBQ, Alfresco Mobilista, 2 Fat 2 Fly Wings, Pawley's Mobile Eats, and NY's Famous Hot Dogs - have been a tremendous addition to Columbia's food scene.

The emergence of these trucks has caused some serious anxiety among Columbia's "brick & mortar" (their words, not mine) restaurant owners.  In an absolutely absurd move, the Columbia Restaurant Association is requesting that City Council tightens the regulations on food trucks.  You can read the proposed amendments to the existing law here.  But just in case you don't have the time, here are the highlights...or lowlights, depending on your viewpoint. There are a few items that I excluded, as I don't think they're nearly as asinine as these few (my comments in italics):
  • Food trucks may not locate within 1,500 feet of a lawfully established eating place selling the same or similar menu items.  How do you determine that?  Who determines that?  And how specific are you going to get?  If a truck sells sandwiches, does that mean they can't park near other places that serve sandwiches?  Or is it only for a specific type of sandwich?  What about drinks?  If a truck sells sweet tea, they pretty much can't park in Columbia, given the fact that every restaurant in town sells sweet tea. See the problem here?
  • If more than three (3) food trucks locate on the same property within 1,000 feet of each other, the following are required:
    • Each food truck will be required to have all of the appropriate licenses and zoning permits;
    • A minimum of one (1) portable toilet facility or access to toilet facilities for the public;
    • A minimum of three (3) picnic tables or something similar to accommodate at least eighteen (18) people.
This particular proposal is the one that irritates me.  The point of a food truck is to be highly mobile. It's food on the go.  They aren't designed for people to congregate, use the bathroom, or hang out.  While I fully support the option to have picnic tables or other seating, it shouldn't be required.  The people who patronize food trucks know and understand this.
  • Food truck vendors shall keep sidewalks, roadways, and other spaces in the immediate area clean and free from paper, peelings, and refuse of any kind, and shall provide a container for litter that shall be maintained and emptied when full. Public trash receptacles shall not be used forcompliance with this section. Food truck must obtain written permission or the use of any public or privately maintained trash receptacles and/or dumpsters and have that on the food truck.  Again, food trucks are mobile.  They are designed for on-the-go food.  Most patrons don't stick around long enough to actually eat and then find a place to dispose of their trash.  They take it with them because it is to-go food.
Things like this really make me wonder if the people protesting food trucks have ever eaten at one.  It's a really cool option for a quick bite to eat, but I doubt that trucks will ever replace traditional restaurants.  Trucks just bring in a bit of competition, and frankly, the Columbia Restaurant Association just needs to get over it.  You can't lobby to make the lives of fellow small-business owners miserable, just because they're creating competition for your business.  Rather, you should be supporting locally-owned and operated establishments because they are part of your community.  And sometimes they even bring publicity to our small city.  Bone-In was recently featured on Eat Street, a show on the Cooking Channel.  How many people are going to come to Columbia, check out some awesome BBQ for lunch, and then head to someplace a little more traditional for dinner?  Think about it.  Impeding the process of food trucks is a detriment to our city, our economy, and our competitiveness in the national food scene.  If the Columbia Restaurant Association wants to keep pace with major food cities, like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and, more locally, Charleston and Atlanta, they need to support the food truck scene.  If Columbia City Council wants to keep our city as a "Famously Hot" location, they would be wise to vote down these amendments, and support something that keeps our city unique.

More information can be found in today's issue of The State, The Free Times, and this particularly well-written blog. Columbia City Council meets tonight (11/15) at 6 p.m. to vote on this issue.  If you can't attend the meeting, contact information for the council members can be found here. Please email if you can't attend.


  1. Very good writeup. Wish I could be there, hope things go well!

  2. How did this turn out? I am interested in a report!